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Vol. 45, No. 2 February 2008 .pdf version
By ANDY KATZ / ESPN
All we want is access, to get the story right, to be informed, and of course have a decent work station with power, wireless, and a chair.
So, maybe I'm naοve, but that doesn't seem to be too demanding.
But as thrust of conference season is upon the sport, I wanted to take the time to acknowledge some folks in the business that understand their jobs that maybe don't get the recognition they deserve.
I had a long conversation with Kyle Muncy of Connecticut recently and we were talking about understanding the role of a sports information director and how much he needed to assert him or herself. Muncy gets it. He knows that he works for the university, not just a head coach. As controlling as Jim Calhoun can be as a basketball coach, Calhoun doesn't dictate every move Muncy makes.
If a writer who covers the Huskies needs a player for a postgame interview, then Muncy will make the effort. Now, he can't make Stanley Robinson talk to a writer, but he's not being told that a player isn't going to be allowed to talk.
Yes, these are student-athletes, they are still young men in their teens in some cases, but this is still a multi-million dollar business. The seats aren't free. Fans are paying in many instances high-price seat-licensing fees just to buy the tickets. Tell me where else that happens in society? Can you imagine if we had to pay a licensing fee just to then purchase a movie ticket?
So, there is accountability, and many times the sports information directors are put in the middle of making a tough decision.
Now, I know I have a skewed view at times since I'm no longer a beat writer. I work for a national web site and network and, like it or not, we are treated differently since we just pop in rather than are there for the daily grind. I know. I've seen it from the other side when I was a beat writer for 10 years.
I don't want this list to be a who's-not-on-it forum. I simply want to single out some people that I come across who are doing their job modestly and make our profession a better place to work. We're all essentially working with each other, and there is no need for adversarial relationships.
Tact, tone and a common understanding are a must for us all to get along. Remember, this is college basketball, so the issues aren't as complex as affordable health care, or health care at all for all Americans.
In the Atlantic 10, the passion that Rhode Island's Mike Laprey, UMass's Jason Yellin, Saint Joseph's Marie Wozniak and Xavier's Tom Eiser show for their jobs is worth noting. Their personalities come through in trying to assist, rather than block, when something is needed.
Duke's Matt Plizga is at one of the franchises in the sport. He has to tread lightly since there is a way to do things at Duke. But his ability to ensure accessibility as best as he can within the structure at Duke is all that can be asked.
The Big East, with 16 schools, has its share of quality personnel but I wanted to single out Muncy, Greg Hotchkiss of Pitt, Kenny Klein of Louisville and Mark Fratto of St. John's who, and I'll quote Muncy here, "get it."
There might not be an SID who loves his job more than Michigan State's Matt Larson. Tom Izzo should be thankful he has an SID who is as loyal yet challenging. Larson and Izzo came up with their reporters' practice day that looked like it was as all-access a day could be for a reporter. Larson is always pushing back, trying to get stories into the paper, onto the web and on television.
Not too far behind is Wisconsin's Brian Lucas. Lucas has the perfect demeanor to play off of the dry whit of Bo Ryan. Lucas seems to bleed Badger red, but his helpfulness shines through, regardless of the situation or crisis.
The Big 12, led by the conference SID Rob Carolla, might have the deepest bench. It's hard to find an SID in this conference that doesn't go beyond the job description. The effort by Scott McConnell of Texas, Chris Theisen of Kansas, David Reiter of Missouri, Mike Houck of Oklahoma and Tom Gilbert of Kansas State just to name a few should be praised. Gilbert was put in a tough spot when Frank Martin didn't allow the freshmen to speak during the fall semester, which is about as ridiculous a controlling move as a coach can make with his players. It's one thing to wait until they play in a game, but to ban them speaking for the semester doesn't make sense in today's era when they could be gone in six months and they'll be under the NBA's mandatory press-access rules.
The SEC has plenty that could be mentioned as well. But I'm trying to think of someone who works harder than the SEC's own DeWayne Peevy. I can't. He is as thorough as a conference sports information director could be in this profession. The SIDs in this conference, led by Kentucky's Scott Stricklin and Florida's Fred Demarest, should be proud that Peevy is leading them on a yearly basis.
Arizona's Richard Paige, Arizona State's Doug Tammaro and newcomer to the biz Washington State's Jessica Schmick get what they must do and handle their jobs with class out West. So, too, does Rich Davi at Saint Mary's, who is constantly striving to get more publicity for the upstart Gaels but doing it in a tasteful, not shilling manner.
But if there is one sports information director that I would be remiss not to mention, it is Wyoming's Kevin McKinney. McKinney just plows ahead doing his gig in Laramie. He doesn't seek publicity, but he might be one of the best in the biz and has a rock of a personality that is as inviting and welcoming as you'll find. Not dealing with McKinney as much anymore since I stopped covering the WAC/MWC is something I miss.
Since I joined ESPN in 1999, I have traversed the country countless times and run across so many colleagues that are fine examples of our profession.
I wanted to single out a few in our profession that are members of the organization that when you see them in a press room, a locker room or check them out on their respective web sites, you know they understand their subject:
Jerry Tipton, Lexington Herald-Leader
And one final nugget: I hope some day we could get to a point where officials can be held accountable in the same light as coaches and players. I know it's not the case in any sport. But I'd like to see where within reason officials can be queried without their being an affront to their integrity. Obviously, judgment calls are hard to pick apart in a split second. But as the bench decorum rules are being enforced, I'd like to see the officials officially give a reason why a coach was given a technical. What did he say? Did he cross the coaches' line? What set him off? When I've seen at least one official fail to use restrain himself to calm a situation down, I'd like to know from him why he was so agitated. Officials in some circles are as known as some of the coaches. It's about time some of them answered a question.
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